Developing Social Skills in Children and Teens
Although we value independence highly in our society, research actually shows that genuine caring and support is the most important resilience-building condition one can create. The support we receive socially and emotionally acts as a buffer to the stress of life and also helps to protect our physical health. Naturally, some people are more outgoing and extroverted whilst others are more introspective and introverted. Nevertheless, “social intelligence” invites greater caring and support in challenging times, and the ability to interact well with others is a predictor of academic and job success, independence and emotional wellbeing. Extending empathy and compassion to others also helps us to feel good. So the earlier we learn to build strong social support networks through reciprocal relationships, the better (Henderson, 2012; Reblin & Uchino, 2009).
Social intelligence includes the ability to have a conversation, awareness of what is considered to be normal social behaviour versus rude behaviour, understanding the needs and feelings of others and being able to play different roles in different situations whilst remaining authentic (Riggio, 2014). These skills are often naturally absorbed by children as they develop and interact with adults and each other, but not necessarily. Some children get caught up in competitiveness, gossip or bullying behaviour, or may be biologically undeveloped in this area - such as children on the autism spectrum. Children who experience anxiety, depression or poor self-esteem may find that their symptoms prevent them from socialising effectively (Lake, 2018).
Fortunately, social skills can be learned and practised which happens best in low-stress conditions, as they are complex and improvement may take time.
Skills such as focus, attention and impulse control need to be modelled at home. Behaviours that are not socially beneficial, such as interrupting someone when they are speaking can be gently corrected, away from siblings or friends to avoid embarrassing the child. Notice when the desired behaviour occurs and praise it.
In young children, social skills are transferred well through play and games. A good example is a name game, where children sit in a circle and throw a ball to one another and say their name when they catch it. There are also turn taking games such as rolling a ball back and forth or taking turns to add a block to a construction; and instruction games like “Simon Says” that teach children to follow directions and regulate behaviour. Music making and dramatic pretend-play foster co-operation. In Emotion Charades, for example, one player acts out a certain emotion, and the other players must guess which feeling is being portrayed. Co-operative gardening, cooking or art create ample opportunities to learn to share and help. Stories, in which characters express different emotions, can be discussed to promote empathy. In older children, critical thinking skills and assertiveness can be developed through debating. Role play is an effective teaching tool. You can role play self-introductions and initiating conversations with children, as well as more serious conversations, such as job interviews, with older adolescents. There are board games such as “30 Seconds” which improve communication in a light-hearted way, and the more sophisticated “Awkward Moment” card game that poses various uncomfortable situations and encourages discussion around the best way to react to them (Devar, 2018; Rivera, 2017).
Life provides endless opportunities to cultivate empathy. When situations arise, discuss the feelings that are evoked in those involved, including the children or adolescents themselves. Recognising emotions in one’s self is beneficial in identifying emotions in others. Create awareness around tone of voice and body language. It is a good idea for teens to identify and approach others with whom they share similar interests as they are more likely to “click” with these people, which feeds their confidence in relationship-building. Equip teens with some conversation starters and encourage them to show genuine interest in others. Volunteering for a charity with your teen also fosters compassion.
Through team membership, children and teens learn sportsmanship, co-operation, discipline, the power of synergy and reliability. Furthermore, supportive groups facilitate relationships, as members can identify with, learn from and provide support for each other as they share their own stories. Some psychologists recommend that clients with more serious social difficulties participate in specific social skills groups where age-appropriate skills are taught and practised. There are also parent and education groups that complement these. Support groups can offer discussion interspersed with fun activities such as art, cooking, sports, craft or music appreciation ("Social Skills & Support Groups - FACT", 2019).
In summary, social fluency provides many life-long advantages and is worth consciously developing.
Life Skills/learning/Inspire learning/E-Classroom/Social and Emotional Learning
Devar, G. (2018). Social skills activities for children and teens: Evidence-based tips. Retrieved 16 October 2019, from https://www.parentingscience.com/social-skills-activities.html
Henderson, N. (2012). The Resiliency Workbook: Bounce Back Stronger, Smarter and With Real Self-Esteem. Solvang: Resiliency in Action.
Lake, M. (2018). The Importance of Social Skills: Raising a Socially Intelligent Child. Retrieved 16 October 2019, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/importance-of-social-skills-raising-socially-intelligent-child-0102184
Reblin, M., & Uchino, B. (2008). Social and emotional support and its implication for health. Current Opinion In Psychiatry, 21(2), 201-205. doi: 10.1097/yco.0b013e3282f3ad89
Riggio, R. (2014). What Is Social Intelligence? Why Does It Matter?. Retrieved 16 October 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201407/what-is-social-intelligence-why-does-it-matter
Rivera, D. (2017). 10 Ways to Improve Social Skills in Children and Teens | Urban Wellness. Retrieved 16 October 2019, from https://urbanwellnesscounseling.com/10-ways-improve-social-skills-children-teens/
Social Skills & Support Groups - FACT. (2019). Retrieved 16 October 2019, from https://factfamily.org/child-services/social-skills-groups/